Reparations Committee discusses next steps for direct cash payments, separate cash benefit program


Daily file illustration by Emma Ruck

At the meeting, committee members agreed use of cash payments for the Restorative Housing Program should be unrestricted for recipients.

Shannon Tyler, City Editor

The Reparations Committee discussed how the city will implement direct cash payments to its Restorative Housing Program recipients on Thursday morning. The committee also considered hurdles to creating a separate cash benefits program. 

After City Council unanimously passed direct cash as an option for the Restorative Housing Program on March 27, city Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings said city staff still had questions about the details of the payments. 

Cummings asked whether cash payments for the program should be restricted to just housing-related purchases. 

“The way the Restorative Housing Program was sort of built was to encourage people to either stay in or come back to Evanston,” Cummings said.

But committee member Robin Rue Simmons said the committee’s goal is to make the reparation cash payments entirely unrestricted. Recipients’ use of the payments is not for the city to dictate, she said.

“What we’ve also said as a committee is we don’t want any unreasonable oversight and that it should be up to the recipient to us with how they choose,” Rue Simmons said. 

Both Cummings ultimately agreed that use of direct cash payments for the program should be an “honor system.” Cummings added city staff would not have the capacity or person-power to monitor how money is spent. 

The city is, however, struggling to quantify its discrimination against Black residents with a dollar amount –– a decision necessary to establish a separate cash benefit reparations program, according to Cummings. Evidence for the amount is necessary if the city is ever challenged in court over reparations programs, he said. 

“In order to have race-based or race-conscious programming from a municipality, you need to have sufficient evidence to show the necessity for your remedy,” Cummings said. 

He said once the city has the resources to do the research, he will come back to the committee to design the cash benefits program. 

Connections for the Homeless Director of Development Sue Loellbach also gave the committee an update on the organization’s equitable zoning review project. It’s designed to help repair the harm caused by the city’s zoning and housing policies, according to Loellbach. 

ZoneCo, a zoning consultant company contracted by the project, concluded there are parts of the existing zoning code that are causing harm and perpetuating discrimination. 

“What we’re doing now is looking at the data and our big question that we’re trying to answer is, are all residents experiencing the benefit that zoning really should be providing to the community?” said Loellbach. 

The city is considering updating its comprehensive plan and zoning code. Loellbach said the city is committed to considering Connections’ results from this project for the updates. 

Committee member Claire McFarland Barber discussed her work on an informational meeting she held for families of deceased ancestor reparations recipients on April 4.

McFarland Barber volunteered to host the meetings and answer questions about the process of receiving the reparations benefits of a deceased family member, and said she plans to host more workshops in the future.

“I hope that those families found that helpful,” McFarland Barber said. “I hope the wider community can feel some sense of support with our other community members who have various expertise.” 

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Twitter: @shannonmtyler 

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